Priest-turned environmentalist tours B.C.

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    A Filipino priest who was once on the assassination list of the Philippine military is on a speaking tour of Vancouver as guest of Development & Peace (D&P). D&P (Caritas –Canada) is the development arm of the Canadian Catholic church. Fr. Edwin ‘Edu’ Gariguez was allegedly included in the so-called hit list of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., now facing charges of alleged human rights abuses.

    Gariguez is currently head of the National Secretariat for Social Action , Caritas – (NASSA), the advocacy and social development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

    He will be the main speaker at the launch of D &P’s Share Lent Campaign on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 8:30 PM at St. Patrick’s Church on Main St. in Vancouver. He will also give an update on the relief efforts in the country after typhoon Haiyan. D&P donated $14-million for typhoon relief.

    BeforeheadingNASSA, Gariguez served in the island of Mindoro where he became involved in the fight against mining and organizing the peasants to advocate for their rights. Palparan was assigned in Mindoro and Romblon from May 2001 to April 2003 as commander of the Philippine Army’s 204th Brigade.

    Gariguez said he documented the extrajudicial killings in Mindoro, many of which involved torture.

    “During his reign of terror, Palparan lumped together all those in progressive movements, even people from the church doing justice advocacy for the poor, and they were targeted for assassination. They were tagged as dissident terrorist in Palparan’s list and his list even included me. That’s why I needed to leave the diocese for a while, while Palparan was there,” he added.

    Gariguez was executive director of Peasant Empowerment and Advocacy Network (Peasant-Net), a founding leader of Alyansa Laban sa Mina (ALAMIN). Gariguez was also a part-time staff for Mangyan Mission at the time.

    Gariguez said his 40th birthday was marked with an “unforgettable period of brutal liquidation of leaders of progressive movements” in Mindoro.

    During that time, suspected rebel sympathizers were killed, tortured, decapitated, or summarily executed.

    “I worked for the Mangyan Mission during that time and I was the executive director for the Church-based farmers’ apostolate, Peasant-Net, and we were pursuing agrarian reform program in Mindoro,” he said.

    He also led the anti-mining campaign, “so most of the time we have mobilizations or rallies.”

    “Palparan thought those people who expressed their sentiments are already communists,” he said.

    In the late 1990s, Norwegian mining company Intex (then known as Mindex) proposed an open-pit nickel mine on Mindoro. The proposed mine area is near two key biodiversity areas and is within the watershed that feeds the island’s four major rivers, which provide drinking water to lowland communities and irrigation for Mindoro’s rice fields. The Intex mine would use a process known as acid leaching to access the nickel ore, producing several million tons of toxic waste, contaminating the island’s water resources and destroying the tropical forests. The mine would also heavily impact Mindoro’s Mangyan indigenous communities, as the proposed mining area is within their ancestral land. During an exploration phase of the project, indigenous burial grounds were desecrated in violation of federal rights of indigenous peoples.

    Father Edu co-founded the Alliance Against Mining (ALAMIN), a broad coalition of Mindoro residents, elected officials, civil society groups, church leaders and indigenous peoples who oppose mining on the island. He is not opposed to mining per se, but believes measures to safeguard the environment, protect indigenous communities’ rights and ensure a fair distribution of economic benefits should be required.

    In 2009, he led an 11-day hunger strike until the federal Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) finallyagreed to conduct an investigation into the mine’s environmental and social violations. DENR indefinitely revoked Intex’s permit, halting the mine. As a result, major funders, including Goldman Sachs, divested of their funding, leading Intex to make an unsuccessful attempt to sell the $2.4 billion project in 2010. Shortly after the botched sale, Intex’s CEO resigned due to “severe setbacks.”

    Gariguez obtained his PhD degree in Anthropology from the Asian Social Institute in 2008. His dissertation expounds on the ecological spirituality of the indigenous peoples in Mindoro as a practical framework and alternative paradigm for sustainable development and well-being.

    After his studies in Asian Social Institute, he went back to his work in Mindoro. His engagement in addressing mining-related issues and campaigns is extensive. He is one of the founding members of ALAMIN (Alyansa Laban sa Mina), a provincial alliance of church, local government and civil society organizations in the island of Mindoro that waged a decade of sustained advocacy to protect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and peasant communities to be impacted by extractive industry.

    Gariguez was awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize with an award of US$150,000 for the furtherance of his cause. He is the second Filipino to be granted this award.

    Responsible mining, Gariguez maintains, is a myth. The safeguards provided by law are tokenistic, and the system, which is far from incorruptible, relies heavily on the assumed compliance of actors involved, he told the online news Rappler in an interview.

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